In July 2019, on the first official week of the climbing season, I made the trip from Tokyo to Fujikawaguchiko with a big dream: to climb Mount Fuji with absolutely zero training and preparation.
Though it felt like a gruelling feat at the time, and despite having a handful of panic attacks prior to taking my first steps up the mountain, the journey absolutely felt worth it once it was all over (note that I didn’t say when I reached the summit).
There were a few things I would have appreciated knowing before setting out on the climb, so if you’re considering tackling Fuji-san in the future, then consider these 10 learnings your own official ‘heads-up’.
1. It’s not that hard!
My fitness level sits somewhere between capable-of-a-long-but-flat-bushwalk and die-running-for-the-bus — so while I’m not unfit, let it be clear that I am no athlete. When telling people about my plans for Mt. Fuji, the look of horror on my friend’s faces, in conjunction with many fear-factor TripAdvisor reviews online, left me feeling pretty nervous about the 3,776m climb.
And then I saw that a 93-year-old man successfully made the journey in 2017, and so I figured if he could do it, I could, too. I took the Yoshida Trail for my climb. I’m not here to tell you it’s a cakewalk, and yes, training and proper preparation will definitely help you to feel more confident going in, but all in all, it wasn’t that bad.
2. The view is not all that, sorry ‘bout it
The question I am most asked about the climb is: “Was the view amazing from the top?”. Perhaps it was for the daybreak climbers, and if you Google the view from the summit you’ll be presented with some pretty epic shots, but Mt. Fuji is foggy, and it’s very likely you’ll see no further than a few metres ahead of you the whole way up — and down.
If you are lucky enough to catch the mountain on a clear day, the most you’ll see is the nearby town and lakes of Fujikawaguchiko and the spooky Aokigahara Forest, known more commonly as the Sea of Trees.
3. You’ll want to save some energy for the way down
In many ways, the descent was far more challenging than the journey upwards. There’s a certain hunger for accomplishment that keeps you putting one foot ahead of the other to make it up, but as soon as you decide it’s time to come down, all you can seem to think about is that ice-cold Asahi waiting for you on the other side.
While the trail up is abundant in huts where you can rest and sit down for a snack, the trail down presents little opportunity to pause. It’s just relentless zig-zagging down slippery pebbles, and my knees have never, ever been more sore.
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4. Walking sticks are cool, but they may make the climb harder
Seasoned climbers may choose to bring trekking poles on the hike, but many tourists opt to buy the basic wooden walking sticks from the starting point before commencing the climb. Along the way, those that reside in the mountain huts will brand your stick with decorative stamps for a fee.
The stick makes for a memorable souvenir, but be wary that it can actually be more of a nuisance in the hairy sections and rather an expensive investment in the end. While the actual stick costs around ¥1,000 ($AU13), each stamp will set you back ¥400 ($AU5). Still keen? Bring a pocket full of coins.
5. You can climb Mt. Fuji in one day
Provided you’re not fussed about witnessing the sunrise from the summit, of course. Majority of climbers embark on a two-day climb, starting in the afternoon and spending a night in a hut closer to the top. On day two, they’ll wake super early to hike the last leg and enjoy the sunrise from the summit.
The mountain is the most crowded in the mornings — particularly in the official climbing season when I’m told the path resembles human soup — so I chose to tackle Mt. Fuji in just one day by starting at the crack of dawn. I began at 7.00am, reached the summit by around 1.30pm, and made it down by 4.30pm.
6. The weather can turn in a hot second
Even in the hottest months, the temperature at the summit can sit below 5°C, so it goes without saying you’ll need to pack layers. You’ll pray for a clear and sunny day but it’s very likely you’ll experience strong gusts of wind, fog and mist, patches of rain and even storms. Which is why…
7. You cannot wing it on the gear
Before doing a little bit of research (a week out from the climb, mind you), I planned to tackle Mt. Fuji wearing a pair of yoga pants and Nike sneakers, but that would have been a horrible and perhaps hilarious mistake.
You’ll need waterproof gear, warm layers, gloves and proper hiking boots. Be sure to bring plenty of water, some snacks and a first-aid kit in your backpack.
8. You can get a pretty decent meal on the mountain
The residents in the huts prepare meals for climbers — nothing too fancy, just bowls of ramen, udon, miso soup and curry and rice. Getting ingredients up there is no easy feat, so you can expect to pay a little more for a feed. Again, bring coins as many huts only accept cash.
Anyone who’s visited Japan knows you can find a vending machine or five on every corner, and the summit of Mt. Fuji is no different. You can buy bottles of water, coffee and soft drinks from vending machines along the way, but you will need to bring all of your bottles back down the mountain with you as there are no bins.
9. The toilets are… something
You will smell the restrooms before you see them. There are plenty of bathrooms on the ascending trails you can use for a small fee that goes towards maintaining the facilities, but be aware there are minimal toilets on the descending trail.
10. For the love of God, bring sunscreen
The chilly weather and cooling mist does well to fool you into thinking you’ll be safe from the sun, but the UV on the mountain is brutal and will have you bright red and crispy in no time at all.
Heed my warning and wear full spectrum SPF, making sure to reapply regularly throughout the climb.
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